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The Truth About Sex
on March 29, 2006
I read the celebrated "Moral Animal" some 10 years ago, re-read it and underlined it at least twice. Finally I had found a theory of human nature and psychology I could wholeheartedly believe in. Ten years later, I have now found "Red Queen" - more of the same, but specialized particularly in the huge role sexual selection played during our evolutionary history.
Experienced scientist and science journalist Matt Ridley compiled these findings of evolutionary psychology (EP) for the lay reader in 1993 - and "Red Queen" is still a timely treatise. Disclaimer: For those who are offended by the very suggestion that our behavior evolved from a pre-ape ancestor - and that our behavior is an elaborate, sophisticated manifestation of language and socialization which evolved by natural selection along with a huge brain - you won't like this book.
I realize the following assessments of mine are anecdotal, but here goes: I have seen how men and women preen, peacock-like, showing off their best (?) sides during courtships, and how they pair off in society according to commonly accepted determinants of status, differing depending on sex. I have seen how the competitive, power-seeking behavior of men is drastically tempered by marriage. I have seen how married men who are careful in all other endeavors will take uncharacteristic risks for a sexual fling. I have observed how women tend to choose (in a mate) financial success and stability over looks (if they have to choose), whereas men tend to choose beauty over all else. I have seen how men and women differ in their outlooks: Men (generally) want to be practical, shrewd, assertive, dominating, competitive, critical, and self-controlled. Women (usually) want to be loving, affectionate, impulsive, sympathetic, and generous. One in three men said they had fantasized about having sex with more than a thousand women in their lives. Women overwhelmingly fantasize about having sex with a familiar partner. I have read about and subsequently observed how people (unconsciously?) score each other during their social interactions, rating relationship values for the future. Finally, game theory concepts are widely known to be utilized by humans in sexual and social interactions. All these concepts are predicted by EP. I could go on with other examples, but in short, I'm a sucker for EP.
Recently, I have read about resistance in university humanities departments to EP - humans being so special and all. We are - in the sense that our intelligence has given us free reign over our world - but humans are still very imperfect. We are poorly designed in many ways (backs, knees, tendency to war, self-delusion) - exactly what one would expect from evolution. Cockroaches or certain scorpions, which can live without food and water for almost a year, are also impressive. There is every reason to believe that our (at times) unethical sexual behavior as well as our superior intelligence evolved in just as Rube-Goldberg a fashion as did our (very complicated and redundant) blood clotting mechanism.
Anyway, this book is superb. I will close, since I could end up nattering on for more pages than most would want to read. Consider moving "Red Queen" closer to the top of your TBR list. A Best Buy.